Basic Offhand

Just because you have a sword in one hand, doesn’t mean the other hand is useless. Your offhand is actually one of the most useful tools at your disposal. For consistency’s sake, your offhand will always refer to your non-dominant hand whether it’s holding something or not. Learning to use your offhand is a critical skill so dedicate time developing your offhand skills.

Points of safety

With sturdy gloves on hand, you’re ready to reach into the fight and put that offhand to work. They may take a bit of a beating, but these safety points will keep the worst off and protect those fingers.

  • No Grabbing: It is not permitted to grab your opponent’s weapon in any way, either the guard or the blade. Grabbing a weapon includes any time your fingers close around the blade or lock the blade in a position that can’t be wiggled out of. 
  • Use Your Palm: When using your Offhand it is best to use the palm of your hand to control your opponent’s blade. While still legal, using the back of your hand is not recommended because it is painful due to lack of padding. 

General Points

The trickiest part of using your offhand is remembering that it’s even there. You can get so focused on the sword and everything going on there that your hand might get left out entirely. So let’s keep things simple with these general principles and you can get fancy once your offhand becomes second nature.

  • Basic Hand Position: The basic hand position for your offhand is out in front of your chest, but with your elbow bent. Far enough that it can move freely, but not so far that your arm is extended. Imagine you were going to catch a ball with one hand. That can give you a good place to start.
  • Windshield Wiper: After finding that basic hand position, moving your hand is as simple as waving. Imagine it like a windshield wiper, pushing the blade up and away from your body in an arc. If possible, do everything you can to push the blade away from your body and not in front. You don’t want a strike to slip past and hit you.
  • Maintain Contact: Now that your hand is moving, remember that you’re blocking swords and not swatting mosquitos. As you block, don’t swat the sword away but maintain contact and push it where you want it to go. By maintaining contact, you’ll feel their sword in your hand and can better follow it as they try to get away.
  • Beware of Draw Cuts: The longer you maintain contact though, the higher your risk of a Draw Cut. We’ll cover Draw Cuts in a future lesson, but essentially an opponent can slide their blade across your hand in a “cut” and cause you to lose your hand. If you think they might start a draw, pull your hand away quickly or acknowledge the cut after it happens.
  • Accidental Grab: In the event that you accidentally grab an opponent’s weapon or hilt, you can voluntarily lose your hand or take it as a kill. It’s a point of chivalry that isn’t necessarily required but demonstrates that you’re focused on safety and honor first.

Training Ideas

Anytime you want to practice and hone your offhand skills, try out one of these training drills or games. Could be a great way to warm up or remind you that your offhand is there, ready and waiting.

  • Look, Mom! No Sword!: Grab a partner, but set your sword aside. Using only your offhand, stay alive as long as you can while your partner strikes at you. Start out slow with consistent targets but eventually work yourself up to full speed. If you want you can use both hands or limit yourself to a single hand.
  • Don’t Let It Get Away: With a partner, position yourself with your offhand already in contact with their blade. At the lay-on, try to maintain contact as your partner tries to free their sword from your hand. Time yourself and see how long you can keep in contact. Don’t be afraid to move, but try to maintain good footwork and positioning.
  • Wave At The Opportunity: Facing a partner, take turns striking each other and defending with your offhand. As you block, pay attention to any openings you have after the block.
  • Wiggle Your Fingers: If you struggle remembering your offhand is there, practice wiggling your fingers. Go into a couple of duels and don’t let yourself stop wiggling your fingers. You’ll be surprised how much more aware you are of your offhand as you keep that connection to them open.

Assessment

Your offhand will come with you into every fight, so it pays to learn how to use it. It can open the doors to so many opportunities and it will save your life countless times. Never forget your offhand.

  • Offhand Safety: Do you understand what it means to “grab” an opponent’s weapon and why it’s frowned upon? Can protect your fingers and control how you defend with your offhand?
  • Offhand Basics: Can you demonstrate the basic hand position for your offhand? What is the most effective way of blocking with your offhand? Are you able to maintain contact with your opponent’s blade and do you know what to do if they attempt a Draw Cut? What do you do if you grab someone’s weapon?
  • Offhand Training: After attempting to use your offhand in a fight, what areas can you focus on? Do you have ideas and plans on how to train your offhand more throughout practice and into the future?